Radical Pantheist: Asatru, Building Temples and Breaking Barriers

Radical Pantheist: Asatru, Building Temples and Breaking Barriers July 28, 2018

Asatru is growing, and its members are honoring the old gods by opposing the hate groups who are appropriating their symbology.

Iceland’s first Pagan temple in 1000 years is expected to open within the remaining months of 2018.

Image by Gunnar Creutz via WikiMedia. Public Domain Image

Members of the Ásatrúarfélagið faith have commissioned architect Magnus Jensson to build the temple, taking into account sacred geometry, planetary alignments and the golden ratio, according to Culture Trip.

The temple will have 250 seats and is being built on grounds that were consecrated in a 2015 ceremony.

Ásatrúarfélagið, also referred to as Asatru, is the modern continuation of Norse pagan traditions with roots tracing back thousands of years. They are also both referred to as Heathenism, an Old English word Christians used to describe Paganism in Germany and other parts of Europe.

Asatru was outlawed in Iceland in the year 1,000 by the parliament of the Viking commonwealth, Alþingi, according to Iceland Magazine.

After a harsh division between followers of Asatru and the growing religion of Christianity, the new official religion of Iceland, followers of Asatru retreated into the shadows to continue their practice.

In 1973 Asatru was recognized by the state as a religion after a public ritual was held by only 12 practitioners brave enough to challenge public opinion.

Ásatrúarfélagið, meaning “Pagan Association” was founded in Iceland in 1992 and has quickly grown to be Iceland’s fastest growing religion, again according to Iceland Mag, who says that Ásatrúarfélagið is the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland.

Ásatrúarfélagið is primarily based in the ancient traditions of Ásatrú, with modern-day members worshipping the same old gods and goddesses as their ancestors: deities like Thor, Odin and Frigg.

Asatru has no center church or holy text, there are no rules and practically limitless interpretations of the faith, which is becoming a Global religion.

Asatru High Priest Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson explained to Seeker magazine that many followers of the religion see the gods as symbolic:

“The priest said the gods are viewed as mystical and symbolic. Most modern worshipers don’t consider them to be living beings that are capable of flying down from the clouds.”

Originally from Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods.” Painting by Arthur Rackham via WikiMedia.

While this is an entirely valid way to view divinity, the above sentence seems to be framed by Seeker as a justification for the religion. Many people in today’s world might see ancient mythologies as stories of over-imaginative civilizations that have been proven wrong, and may think that modernized monotheistic religions are more realistic. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter if believers think Thor is a living entity that can fly out of the clouds, because this is no more or less realistic than Christians believing the same thing about Jesus or Hindus thinking the same about Vishnu.

Hilmarsson is possibly misunderstood by citizens of the U.S., Sweden, Germany and Canada, where symbols of a religion sacred to him have been appropriated into symbols of fascism and hate practiced by modern white supremacists.

White Supremacists groups like the Nordic Resistance Movement in Sweden, the infamous Third Reich of Germany and The Soldiers of Odin in Canada view Anglo-Saxons and Vikings as ancient and “pure” white super-races. These groups adopt Asatru’s rich symbology and rewrite its history into a vague and inaccurate narrative that fits their agenda of white supremacy.

An article in the Atlantic describes in detail how this appropriation has affected practitioners of Asatru.

Memes like this are common on Facebook.

The article mentions many self-identified Heathens who have formed networks to actively fight against ultra-right groups who appropriate Norse religious symbols. One such network is Vikingar Mot Rasism, or Vikings Against Racism, a Swedish group who has actively opposed white supremacists in protest and shown support for the LGBTQ community at Stockholm Pride, according to The Local.

Several online communities of Heathens that oppose and police the racist use of their symbols can be found on Facebook.

Asatru is a traditional Norse spiritual path and should be respected as such. As followers in Iceland and across the globe work to take back their symbols and educate the general public, it is important to remember that this fight is not the heart of the faith, rather an attempt made by members of the faith to correct a gross misuse of their sacred symbols.

Members of Ásatrúarfélagið must live in Iceland, but followers of Asatru can be found around the world. Generally, members of both groups come from diverse backgrounds and practice tolerance.

Luke Gardner is a journalist with a passion for spirituality and social justice. Luke identifies as a Buddhist-Pagan and believes that truth can be found in every spiritual path. You can read more about the author here.

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